What Are the Origins of Shakespeare's "Richard II"?

Shakespeare's "Richard II" deals with an English monarch from two hundred years earlier.
A book of plays by William Shakespeare.
Article Details
  • Written By: K. Kinsella
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 12 April 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    Conjecture Corporation
  • Print this Article
Free Widgets for your Site/Blog
Fluorescent light bulbs use 80% less electricity and last as much as 12 times longer than conventional light bulbs.  more...

April 16 ,  1947 :  The term "Cold War" w  more...

The English playwright William Shakespeare is believed to have written the play "Richard II" in the year 1592. Shakespeare's play is based upon the life of the English Monarch who ruled his nation from 1377 until 1399. "Richard II" is the first part tetralogy of plays that also includes "Henry IV" parts one and two, and "Henry V". Like the other plays in the tetralogy, "Richard II" is classified as a history play although when it was first performed it was referred to as a tragedy.

Richard ascended to the English throne upon the death of Edward III in 1377. At the time, Richard was only 10 years old, so a committee was created to effectively govern the nation until the monarch was deemed to be old enough to handle the country's affairs. The introduction of an unpopular tax in 1381 led to the so-called peasants revolt during which large numbers of peasants descended on the capital and stormed the royal fortress at the Tower of London. Rather than fleeing, the fourteen-year-old monarch confronted the mob and his intervention ultimately brought an end to the popular uprising. Thereafter, the young Richard II took a more active role in managing the nation.


After successfully quelling the peasants revolt, many historians argue that Richard II was quite popular with his subjects for a number of years, but William Shakespeare's play starts later in his reign after Richard had become a more divisive figure. Early in the play, Richard intervenes in a dispute between his cousin Henry of Bolingbroke and a man named Thomas Mowbray during which Bolingbroke accuses Mowbray of killing the Duke of Gloucester. Richard II eventually banishes both men before claiming Bolingbroke's family estate for himself. In the play, Richard's reign comes to an end when Bolingbroke overthrows him and claims the English crown.

The key details in Shakespeare's play are based on real events as the real life Bolingbroke was exiled and did eventually become King Henry IV. At surface level, the play is viewed as a historical drama but some viewers at the time perceived it to be an allegorical tale with the Richard character based upon the aging monarch Elizabeth I. Additionally, much of play is concerned with explaining Richard's role as a divinely appointed monarch. This exploration of monarchial power was also significant during Shakespeare’s time because Queen Elizabeth's father King Henry VIII had pointed to his role as divinely anointed ruler when he chose to break away from the Catholic Church. Aside from the historical references and topical subtext, many academics argue that "Richard II" was also a play through which Shakespeare honed his skills as a writer; some of the elements that are seen in later works such as Hamlet are first touched on this play.


Discuss this Article

Post your comments

Post Anonymously


forgot password?